Greetings from the South Asia Collective! We are a network of human rights activists and organisations from across South Asia. We’ve been working since 2015 to document the condition of the region’s minorities, and to help develop capacity among grassroots-level organisations focused on minority rights and the freedom of religion or belief (FoRB).
We are pleased to bring to you the 9th edition (2023/2) of our Online Bulletin, where we provide an overview of recent human rights violations against South Asia’s minorities, and other minority-related news developments. This edition covers the period between 1st March and 10th June, 2023.
Our Bulletins are put together by research & documentation teams from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka.
Starting from this edition, the Bulletins will adhere more closely to International Human Rights Law. We will report on developments related to key civil, political, economic, social, and cultural rights, and closely monitor the various abuses and violations against minorities in South Asia, through the persecution lens. While our primary focus is on religious minorities (and micro-minorities), our country teams will also cover ethnic, caste, gender, and sexual minorities, as well as indigenous peoples. The Bulletins utilise both primary and secondary sources of data. Secondary sources include international and domestic media outlets, as well as other civil society-led documentation efforts. When using primary sources, we rely on victims, witnesses, and other relevant individuals. Although updates from these sources undergo internal verification, we do not disclose their details due to security reasons. We are, however, open to engaging with international accountability mechanisms. In a region where numerous abuses go unreported, our Bulletins are not intended to provide an exhaustive list of violations. Our aim is to establish a record, highlight trends, and contribute to processes aimed at awareness, prevention, and accountability.
Previous editions of the Bulletin are available here.
Highlights of the period under review
Links to country sections: Afghanistan | Bangladesh | India | Nepal | Pakistan | Sri Lanka
Vulnerable minority groups who faced continuing discrimination and marginalisation as well as fresh rights violations during the period under review included Ahmadiyyas (Bangladesh, Pakistan), Christians (India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka), Dalits (India, Nepal), Hindus (Pakistan, Bangladesh), Muslims (India, Sri Lanka), and Shia-Hazaras (Afghanistan and Pakistan). Women and other gender and sexual minorities, including from the aforementioned targeted groups, continued to face structural discrimination. Highlights from the period under review include:
Instances of extra-judicial killing and custodial torture by state actors were reported from India, where police forces continued an ‘encounter’ killing campaign that has disproportionately targeted Muslims, with the open endorsement of the political leadership.
Instances of arbitrary detention happened on several pretexts, such as blasphemy and blasphemy-related charges (Bangladesh and Pakistan), conversions (India), and for dissenting against the ruling regime (Afghanistan and India).
Major ethnic clashes were reported in India, resulting in large-scale loss of life, disproportionately targeting the mostly-Christian Kuki tribes. Targeted killings of minorities by extremist non-state actors were reported from India (by various Hindu extremist groups) and Pakistan (by Islamic State-Khorasan). Other instances of physical violence against minorities by non-state actors were reported from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, India, Nepal, and Pakistan. Serious instances of anti-minority hate speech and incitement were reported in India (against Muslims and Christians) and Bangladesh (against Ahmadiyyas). In India, Hindu extremist groups also conducted dozens of hate rallies and weapons distribution drives across the country, signalling escalating risk of imminent violence, particularly in BJP-ruled provinces like Uttarakhand and Maharashtra. Concerns regarding the activities of Hindu nationalist groups have also spilled over into Nepal.
Conditions for religious freedom continued to be dire in most countries. Communities whose places of worship came under physical attack included Ahmadiyyas (Bangladesh, Pakistan), Christians (Bangladesh, India), and Muslims (India). Other, fresh restrictions on worship by minorities were reported being imposed in India (against Muslims and Christians). Sri Lanka was newly placed on the US Commission on Religious Freedom (USCIRF)’s Special Watchlist, while Afghanistan, India, and Pakistan continued to be designated as Countries of Particular Concern. USCIRF also highlighted other persisting trends, such as the weaponisation of anti-proselytisation and cow protection laws in India and Nepal. Another report, the US State Department’s Annual Report on International Religious Freedom, also highlighted the same concerns in each country.
Positive developments included a Supreme Court order in Nepal that fortified affirmative action as a fundamental right, and the notification of new rules that will enable Hindus in Pakistan’s Islamabad Capital Territory to marry according to their customs. Sri Lanka received commendation for progress made in the resettlement of internally displaced persons.
Overall, majoritarian and authoritarian trends appear to be hardening across much of the region. Governments and political parties led by authoritarian leaders, including some that openly target minorities, are continuing to consolidate power. Against this backdrop, violent non-state extremist groups across the region have continued to operate with impunity, often with the open endorsement of the state and political leadership. The safeguards for South Asia’s vulnerable minorities continue to be woefully inadequate.
SAC is soon organising an online side-event on regional Universal Periodic Review (UPR) outcomes. This is planned during the 53rd session of the UN Human Rights Council (HRC) that commences later in June 2023, when the UPR outcome reports of Pakistan and Sri Lanka are scheduled to be adopted. India’s UPR outcome report was adopted in March. During the webinar, experts and practitioners will discuss minority-related UPR recommendations received by the above three countries, regional-level trends, and implementation-related challenges that lie ahead. Further details regarding the webinar will be shared in the coming weeks.
SAC made a submission to the UN Special Rapporteur (SR) on Freedom of Religion or Belief (FoRB) on the promotion of FoRB at the national and local level. The submission, which was made in response to a call for inputs ahead of the SR’s report to the General Assembly, covers Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal, Maldives, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka. SAC’s inputs are available here.
The 2023 edition of SAC’s flagship annual South Asia State of Minorities (SASM) Report will examine majoritarianism in South Asia, that lies at the root of the various challenges faced by the region’s minorities. Ahead of the launch of the 2023 edition, scheduled for February 2024, SAC is exploring interventions focusing on justice and accountability on one hand, and promoting dialogue and diversity on the other. Organisation and individuals seeking to collaborate with us in this realm are requested to email us at firstname.lastname@example.org with suggestions and proposals.
The 2022 edition of the SASM Report remains available for free download. The report focused on South Asian states’ commitment to international human rights standards.
SAC’s Pakistan partner Elaine Alam, along with the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), produced ‘A Breach of Faith: Freedom of Religion or Belief in 2021/22’, a yearly report on the state of FoRB in Pakistan. The report, which highlights several alarming developments, is available in its entirety here.
The South Asia Collective team